Practice is Meditation, Playing Is Prayer

guitar practice is meditation
Posted in  Guitar Philosophy by Jamie Andreas,  

Enlightenment is not a matter of seeing something new. It is finally seeing what you have been looking at all the time………..Jamie Andreas

I often summarize my teaching this way: “I teach you how to pay attention, and what to pay attention to”. This may sound simple, but as anyone who has taken personal lessons with me will tell you, it is quite profound. To appreciate it, the student must first come to the sobering realization that when it comes to practicing the guitar, they do not know how to pay attention, and they do not know what to pay attention to.

I bring all students to this point as quickly as possible. When they get there, they understand why they are making no real progress in their guitar practice.

What Paying Attention During Guitar Practice Means

To pay attention during guitar practice is very different than paying attention to other activates in life. It is easy to pay attention while watching a movie, because the movie only involves your mind and emotions, and it does so in a completely passive manner. When we practice guitar, we are using our body, and we are using some of the smallest muscles in the body to do things they never have to do in normal life. We are not in the habit of paying attention to these things.

We are not used to paying attention to the profound subtleties that comprise the movement process that creates our music on the guitar. In fact, the very stress and tension created by the movement process itself acts to lower the power of the mind to "be present" with "what is".

In the face of that stress and tension, we automatically take our attention off the discomfort. Every change of pressure in each finger, every tremor of tension that unnecessarily goes into muscles that should stay relaxed, every disturbance of our breathing that accompanies the errant movement of a finger, must be consciously observed during practice, or we have no power to improve our present abilities.

If I know that my first finger must release pressure as my third finger hammers in order to play a passage at the speed I want, I must be able to follow the action of that finger at every moment and at every speed as I work up the movement using the metronome.

As many people who study my teaching methods have figured out for themselves, this state of profound attention is what is meant by the word "meditation", or the complete focusing of the mind to what is happening in the moment. Buddhists call this "mindfulness". All good players do this naturally or learn to do it. Great players do it to a profound level. Because the process is so intimate and takes place as a wordless awareness beyond the verbal level of the mind, it is rarely spoken of.

Make The Sacrifice

To be able to meditate, we must be able to put down the usual apparatus of our daily functioning. The constant parade of random distracting thoughts and emotions, the play of memory, the destructive power of negative "selftalk", all of this must be put down, made quiet to the point of cessation.

Only then can our awareness be stronger than the haze of confusion that habitually stands between "us" and "what is". As we commune with what is, with no avoidance or obstruction, we gain power over it. To be able to put down the habitual functioning of the mind is a great sacrifice.

We are enamored of, and addicted to, the constant flow of thoughts and feelings that populate every hour of our day. We are unable to cognize reality through any other lens than our concepts and beliefs of what should be, rather than seeing what is. It is only by the greatest need for the music, and the devotion to its realization in our playing, that we will make this sacrifice during practice and playing.

How often I have heard from a student "I wasn't able to really focus on this, there's too much going on in my life". That is not good enough. Rather than being a reason for not "being with" our guitar and music completely, the turmoil of life should be the very impetus to do so. I could never live in this world of endless and increasing conflict and disharmony if I were not able to, on a regular basis, leave it all behind and commune with the higher truth that music brings to me.

When I sit to practice or play, I am gone from this world. I have no memory of it, and no interest in it. I give myself completely to the music and the moment. This is meditation. Those that make the sacrifice, become worthy to create the music. You must decide to make this sacrifice, and no one can help you make that decision. However, after you have decided to make this sacrifice, and give your attention in this powerful way, you can be taught what you need to pay attention to.

Study of my work, beginning with "The Principles of Correct Practice for Guitar" will teach you this. It will show you how to begin the path that leads to your practice becoming your meditation. The type of practice I teach involves making movements one at a time, with no beat (no tempo practice) while focusing intensely not just on the fingers, but all parts of the body, and even stopping completely to relax the whole body while the fingers hold a stressful position. This brings a profound sense of bodily relaxation and mental stillness during playing.

When the mind achieves this state of stillness, the stillness of the Buddha as he sat under the Bo tree, a great power of penetration forms in the mind, and this transforms our practice. We achieve an insight that allows us to see what we have never seen before but was with us all the time. Only a still mind can see at this level of subtlety. The more profound our meditation becomes, the more a union of body, mind and instrument takes place. This prepares us, this allows us, to contact the music we seek. The music we seek lies in the space between the notes. When we have learned to be there, we will be able to play music.

The Space Between The Notes

When we have learned to go deep in our practice, we discover the space between the notes. It is in the space between the notes that we create the notes. It is in the time between each note that our fingers move to create the next sound.

A tense body cannot fall into the spaces between the notes, it cannot allow the fingers to move into that space, touch the strings, and create the next sound. A tense mind cannot hear the music before the sound is made, and we must do this. A tense mind cannot allow the breath to bring the music from the inner sound of the mind to the fingers, strings, and finally the ear.

When we do deep practice, using no tempo practice and the Basic Practice Approach as taught in "The Principles", we release this tension from the body and the mind. We become able to discover the music in the spaces between the notes, as we feel the notes themselves in the space between the strings. This gives us a great power, the power to be the player and the listener at the same time.

Playing As Prayer

 When we play music, we are bringing into manifestation the power that is music. This is a healing power from beyond the human world. Everyone knows this, and everyone feels it. Everyone turns to music to escape the destructive power of this world.

Because of the solace and rejuvenation we receive from our music, we return to this world more able to deal with its endless challenges. When we sit to play, we should feel the joy of a fish who dives back into the ocean after being stranded on dry land.

This total immersion in our deeper being can only be described as a religious experience, a feeling of "coming home", full of joy and gratitude. For every true musician, whether Iggy Pop or Ithzak Perelman, music is the highest religion and revelation. It is the most powerful connection to our inner being.

Utter and complete attention to the bodily experience while performing the process of movement called for by the music during practice leads to utter and complete freedom of movement during playing. The body becomes the servant of the mind, while the mind maintains complete awareness of the music, of the sound before it is heard, and after. The music that is heard in the mind enters the body with the breath, which gives us the energy for the movements that create the sound.

During playing, awareness is centered on the sound (inner and outer) and the feeling of the breath, not as it enters the nose or mouth, but as the energy enters the belly (the center of bodily energy) rises through the solar plexus and heart, and radiates to the arms and fingers, giving them the power of the movement that will become the music.

Effortless Playing

This is the state of "effortless playing" often talked about. It allows the mind and emotions to focus only on the spiritual essence of the music. It is an ecstatic state that all musicians prize, in fact, live for. When the body, mind, and emotions are in complete communion with the music, we ride upon the music like a surfer rides upon the wave. The body and fingers are the surfboard, we use them to touch the strings and so to touch the music.

The music seems to play itself.

The mind is the surfer, riding upon the infinite power of the ocean of music. In this state of total absorption, surfer, board and ocean are one. When the meditation of our practice transforms us so that mind and body have merged with the music, we take up our instrument. Then player, instrument and music become one, sending the offering of our music as a prayer to the Infinite Mystery, which is the source of music, and ourselves

About the author 

Jamie Andreas

Jamie Andreas has one goal: to make sure that everyone who wants to learn guitar is successful. After her first 25 years of teaching, she wrote the world acclaimed method for guitar "The Principles of Correct Practice For Guitar". She put everything into this method that was essential for success on guitar. Called "The Holy Grail" of guitar books, the Principles has enabled thousands of students who tried and failed to play guitar for years or even decades, to become real guitar players. In 2012 Jamie was profiled in "Guitar Zero" (Penguin Press 2012), a study of how adults learn to play guitar. Jamie was interviewed along with some of the worlds leading guitarist/teachers, including jazz legend Pat Martino and Tom Morello ("Rage Against The Machine").

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}